Just before the new year, we took the kids up into New Hampshire to celebrate a little snowfall with some downhill skiing.
Skiing in New England isn't like skiing in Tahoe or many other destinations. The mountains are smaller, and the snow (so say the experts) is different. I don't know. I'm from Georgia. Most of our snow comes in cones. I grew up skiing occasionally, and I can sort of remember how to get from the top of the hill to the bottom in more or less one piece, but that's about it.
She and I stuck my Bride and the Boy into their respective classes, and went up our first chair lift of the morning. I asked her if we could take one of the "green" slopes to start out with - this was at Crotched Mountain, which has nice long, windy slopes with plenty of room to practice your skills.
The Critter gave me a thumbs up and headed down the slope. I zig zagged and tacked back and forth across the hill, giving my body a chance to calm down after being strapped to two long, rigid sticks with the unreasonable purpose of making my downhill descent faster and less deliberate. I would zoom, swish. Zoom, swish to a somewhat controlled stop. And check back up the hill to watch the Critter steadily descend. She has remarkable control. She points her skiis downhill, and goes at a nice, even clip, apparently exactly as fast as she wants. No more, no less.
The Critter has several friends that are on the local racing teams. They figure out tricks to go faster. They seek speed, and get frustrated when they don't win, and show up the next week to do it again. I asked her if she wanted to race or join one of the teams. She said, "No thanks." And we got back in the chair lift and headed up the hill again.
A few more runs and I was feeling comfortable enough to let her choose the next slope. She chose a blue slope, where some of the teams were practicing slaloms. It had a steep drop off, coming from a black diamond above it, where the racers would weave in and out around poles. The Critter just smiled, and headed off at her steady pace. About halfway down, I lost control, and tumbled to a wretched stop. I sat in the snow and contemplated how the hell I was going to get off the hill.
An older guy stopped me and asked me if I needed any help.
"No. Just remind me that I don't have to try and keep up with my 10 year old next time."
He laughed, and said he had been right where I was and helped me me up. I swallowed my pride, took my skiis off, and walked the rest of the way down the steep part of the slope, until it went around the bend and leveled out to something more rational.
I found the Critter there waiting on me.
She had stopped, and watched the racers zoom by, and was patiently watching the slope for me to finally make it around. We laughed a bit together at the foolishness of old men who think they can keep up, and I strapped my skiis on again. I told her to give my battered, snowy corpse a gentle shove down the hill if I didn't manage to make it all the way off of this slope. And which pocket I had put the car keys into. Zoom, swish, zoom, swish, stop, I went down the rest of the hill. Steady, easy, confident skiing she went along side me.
We skied for another couple of hours and headed home, where I soothed my oldness with a hot bath, a cold beer, a half bottle of motrin, and something on my kindle. Simultaneously.
The Critter has never been in a rush. She strolls through the day, enjoying whatever she's doing at her pace. It shouldn't have surprised me that she took skiing with the same confidently content insouciance that she does everything else. She ran cross-country this past autumn for the first time, and was consistently the last to finish at every meet. But she was having a good time. She enjoyed her classmates. She liked the activity and running through the woods. She felt good about what she was doing. And I gave her a high five when she crossed the finish line. She's in competition with nobody but herself. And she seemingly came into this world already & instinctually aware of that fundamental truth.
This is the same kid who, when she was five and meeting a friend at the movies, chose to wear her Pirates of the Carribean costume. With the hat. Not because it was a movie about princesses, or because her friend was going to wear her costume. Just because she enjoyed it. These are the lessons you hope and pray your kids - maybe especially your daughter - picks up. Enjoy who you are. Be comfortable with your skin. Laugh when you fall down, and wait for those that need a little extra time. Especially when it's your daddy.
This week, she got in trouble. Normal, 10 year old kind of trouble that cost her tv, computer and other electronics priveleges for a week or so. (I learned this trick from the Army: "Drop and start doing pushups until I get tired!" The irrationality of the punishment is the only way to restore a little fun into being a parent in those moments.)
This morning, I made her lunch and slipped a note into her lunchbox: I'll love you to the stars and back, little girl. Even when you get in trouble.
I cannot teach this stuff. Hell, if anything, she's teaching me. I just get to sit back and watch this remarkable kid turn into a remarkable person. And wish it wasn't happening so damned fast.